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Most Famous Volcanoes in Iceland

Uncover Iceland’s most famous volcanoes and learn about their fiery histories

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|January 9, 2024
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If Iceland’s many volcanoes are of interest to you, we don’t blame you! Find out about some of Iceland’s most famous and visit-worthy volcanoes.


Iceland isn’t called the land of ice and fire for no reason. The contrasting nature of this North Atlantic island brings together glimmering glaciers and volatile volcanoes. Volcanic activity and eruptions in Iceland regularly make global headlines, and these events span across millennia. But with 130 active and inactive giants scattered across the country’s imposing landscape, which are the most famous volcanoes in Iceland?

For a memorable and fiery visit to Iceland, make sure to include any (or all) of these volcanoes in your itinerary!

Are There Volcanoes in Iceland?

Yes - there are about 130 volcanoes in Iceland. Some of these have been dormant for centuries, while others are still active and are known to erupt from time to time. Our list of Iceland’s most famous volcanoes includes a combination of active, inactive, and extinct volcanoes.

Iceland’s Most Famous Volcanoes

If you pay attention to the news, you’ll likely recognize some of these volcanoes as they made global headlines in recent years due to eruptions. Others, while famous in Iceland, may be unknown to you, but are equally worth visiting.

Katla

Katla volcano, Southern Iceland

Katla volcano, Southern Iceland

The imposing Katla Volcano, located in southern Iceland, has been busy throughout history. Typically, Katla tends to erupt every 20-80 years, however, it’s currently been quiet for longer than normal; the last eruption was in 1918. Similarly to the equally famous Eyjafjallajökull (which we’ll discuss soon), Katla is a stratovolcano. Stratovolcanoes are characterized by the typical cone shape that is associated with volcanoes.

What makes Katla so famous? The frequency of its eruptions, combined with its unique relationship with Eyjafjallajökull, make Katla unique and interesting. Eyjafjallajökull and Katla are sometimes referred to as “sister volcanoes” because they seem to be connected geologically. This thesis is backed up by the fact that on more than one occasion, Katla has erupted directly after Eyjafjallajökull.

Eyjafjallajökull

People standing in front of the volcanic eruption at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010

Volcanic eruption at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010

Travel across Europe was affected by the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, with thousands of travelers stranded and untold numbers of flights canceled as a result of the far-reaching ash cloud. Like Katla, Eyjafjallajökull is a stratovolcano, however, it is covered by an ice cap of the same name, making it somewhat unusual, though not completely unique. 

The 2010 eruption lasted for months, from late March to late June, with dramatic shows of lava and ash occurring throughout the duration. While the 2010 eruption was the most famous, Eyjafjallajökull also erupted four other times throughout history, spanning from the 10th century to the 19th.

Litli-Hrútur

Lava flowing from the Litli-Hrutur volcano in Iceland

Lava flowing from the Litli-Hrutur volcano in Iceland

Another recent eruption site, Litli-Hrutur made international headlines when it began to erupt in July of 2023. Litli-Hrutur, which translates to “small ram,” is a small mountain that is part of a nearby volcanic area, known as Fagradalsfjall. 

Visitors in Iceland at the time enjoyed hiking to the volcano to see the impressive lava flow. The eruption ended in early August of 2023.

Hekla

Hekla volcano in Iceland topped with snow against a cloudy sky

Hekla volcano in Iceland

Another of Iceland’s looming giants, Hekla is steeped in legend and folklore. According to some, Hekla acted as a gateway to hell, where souls of the damned traveled through on their journey to hell. Others claim that its peak was a place where the devil and witches met. Whatever the legends say, fact states that Hekla is the most active volcano in Iceland, with over 20 eruptions occurring since recorded history in the 9th century.

The last time Hekla erupted was in 2000, and geologists believe another is imminent. The volcano is continuously monitored so that the surrounding area can be prepared in the event of another eruption. Hekla is located in the Icelandic Highlands, near the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Due to the remote location, hiking in is the best way to witness this famous Icelandic volcano.

Snæfellsjökull

Snæfellsjökull Volcano in Iceland

Snæfellsjökull Volcano in Iceland

Snæfellsjökull, like Eyjafjallajökull, is an impressive glacier-capped volcano. It is located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula within Snæfellsjökull National Park. As one of the oldest volcanoes in Iceland at more than 800,000 years of age, it has been dormant since its last eruption nearly 2,000 years ago. The volcano is also famous for its height, standing amongst the clouds at an impressive elevation of almost 1,446 m (4,744 ft). Impressively, Snæfellsjökull can sometimes be seen from Reykjavík on a clear day - more than 120 km (75 mi) away!

While Snæfellsjökull may not be famous for activity, it has been immortalized in literature. The author, Jules Verne, chose to name Snæfellsjökull as the entrance to the center of the earth in his 19th-century novel, A Journey to the Center of Earth.

Askja

Askja caldera in the Icelandic Highlands

Askja caldera in the Icelandic Highlands

Nestled in Iceland’s central Highlands is the Askja caldera. This particularly active area is known for considerable eruptions, as well as its unique landscape which has hosted NASA training for lunar landings. The most famous eruption at Askja occurred in the 19th century, and it’s this event that put it on the map. The eruption sent poisonous ash across the Eastfjords and repercussions were felt as far as Eastern Europe!

Today, the area is very popular with hikers in the summer months, as it cannot be accessed during the winter due to the state of Highland F-Roads in the colder season.

Bárðarbunga

Eruption at Bárðarbunga Volcano in Iceland

Eruption at Bárðarbunga Volcano in Iceland

Bárðarbunga is another example of a volcano beneath a glacier. In this case, the glacier is the famous Vatnajökull, the largest in all of Europe. Bárðarbunga is also Iceland’s second tallest mountain, so you can imagine the sheer scale of the sight when eruptions occur. The last lava flow at the site was in 2014 when the nearby Holuhraun lava field erupted.

Bárðarbunga tends to erupt regularly, however, the gaps between eruptions can be as great as 500-600 years. Scientists are watching the area closely, as earthquake activity indicates that another eruption could be simmering beneath the surface.

Grímsvötn

Also located near Vatnajökull is Iceland’s most active volcano, Grímsvötn. The volcano erupted in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which affected air travel. Further activity occurred in 2010 and 2011, which also affected flights due to high levels of ash. It is believed that Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga are linked, and recent activity at the latter may indicate a very active period for both volcanoes.

If you’re eager to get up close to some of Iceland’s most famous volcanoes, explore our volcano tours. Each of our tours is led by experienced and friendly guides who will enrich your experience in Iceland.

 

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